Interviewing & Investigations
The implications of Méndez Principles for Canada
September 30, 2021 By Davut Akca
In 2016, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez, invited member states to recognize a universal set of guidelines for effective and non-coercive interviewing methods and procedural safeguards to prevent torture, ill-treatment or coercion. He underlined the need to leave accusatory, coercive, manipulative and confession-driven practices behind and adopt rapport-based interviewing. Since 2016, stakeholders across various sectors including policing, intelligence, psychology, law and human rights worked on creating these guidelines in light of the scientific evidence and decades of research findings.
The Méndez Principles (a.k.a. Principles on Effective Interviewing for Investigations and Information Gathering) were published and launched in an international event on June 9. The background and details of the six principles were explained in a 43 page document, which provides concrete guidance to authorities on non-coercive interviewing. The document also outlines legal and procedural safeguards that should be implemented during investigations. A recent resolution drafted by the UN Human Rights Council welcomed these guidelines and invited member countries to adopt them. Their implications for Canadian police agencies are as follows.
Principle 1 – On foundations: Effective interviewing is instructed by science, law and ethics
Canadian researchers have contributed to the interview practices through rigorous research in collaboration with police agencies. Based on the findings and the best practices in other jurisdictions, researchers have provided policy recommendations to enhance the interview practices of Canadian police agencies. A closer relationship between practitioners and researchers is needed to translate research into practice and fully implement the Méndez Principles in Canada.
Principle 2 – On Practice: Effective interviewing is a comprehensive process for gathering accurate and reliable information while implementing associated legal safeguards
The effectiveness of interviewing relies on a process including preparation and planning, relevant safeguards, an open mind and non-coercive approach, establishing and maintaining rapport, appropriate questioning techniques, active listening and not interrupting the interviewee, and in-depth analysis of the information gathered. Research on the current practices have disclosed the lack of effective safeguards against coercion during interrogations, such as limited access to counsel and lack of understandability of the Canadian police cautions. Improvements are needed in these safeguards to ensure effective and humanitarian interviews.
Principle 3 – On Vulnerability: Effective interviewing requires identifying and addressing the needs of interviewees in situations of vulnerability
Similar concerns on legal safeguards have also been raised for interrogations with vulnerable populations such as youth and people with mental illnesses in Canada. Coercive interview tactics are particularly harmful for these individuals due to their suggestibility and limited capacity to comprehend their rights, which might lead to false confessions and wrongful convictions. Culturally-sensitive interview approaches for Indigenous people and other vulnerable communities are another aspect that must be taken into consideration.
Principle 4 – On Training: Effective interviewing is a professional undertaking that requires specific training
In a recent article for Blue Line, I discussed the need for a reform in interview training in Canada. A systematic review we conducted on interview training efficacy indicated the effectiveness of even short evidence-based training courses. More investment on these training courses and making them accessible and standardized across Canada is key to success to translate Méndez Principles into practice.
Principle 5 – On Accountability: Effective interviewing requires transparent and accountable institutions
To ensure the transparency and accountability, standard operating procedures and codes of conduct need to be developed and encouraged. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police can lead this discussion and encourage police agencies to agree on these standardized practices with the guidance of Méndez Principles as well as Canadian experts and researchers working in the area of investigative interviewing.
Principle 6 – On Implementation: The implementation of effective interviewing requires robust national measures
The Méndez Principles need to be adopted into legal, policy, regulatory and institutional frameworks to ensure full implementation. Executive, legislative and judicial authorities need to take necessary measures that are in line with these principles so that the quality and efficacy of interview practices can be enhanced so public safety can be improved in line with international standards.
Davut Akca is a research officer at the University of Saskatchewan’s Centre for Forensic Behvioural Sciences and Justice Studies. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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